Surprise packages Uzbekistan and a revived Czech Republic will face off in a vital Group D contest in Torreon on Saturday, with a win ensuring passage through to the Round of 16 - a feat yet to be accomplished by either nation. This incentive, coupled with the attacking play favoured by each side, makes Saturday's match an intriguing prospect for fans of the beautiful game.
The Czechs recent success over New Zealand has given them plenty of momentum ahead of the weekend contest. Against both USA and New Zealand, Czech Republic showed marked improvement over their European qualifying campaign, a change largely due to their willingness to put pressure on the opposition's defence. Simply peppering the goal with shots will not be enough to down the Uzbeks, however, and with just one goal scored in two games the Czechs will need to convert potential into finishing.
With a shock victory over USA an incredible boost ahead of their final group match, Uzbekistan can now eye potential progression to the last 16 in what is their first-ever appearance at the tournament. If the Uzbek boys are to defeat the Czech Republic, they will have to find a balance between attack and defence, and thus break their risky habit of leaving gaping holes in the back. Their forward-thinking instincts are an asset, but given the strength of the Czech backline, committing too many men forward at once may be fatal for the youngsters.
“We want people to enjoy watching us - that’s the way we play. If it has been good enough to get us this far, then we’re confident it will take us through, but we have to sharpen up in the penalty area,” Czech Republic coach Josef Csaplar.
“Defeating USA was a great achievement, but it will count for nothing if we don’t qualify. We have a great chance of going further in this tournament and we’re confident we can continue to prove our talent out on the pitch. We’re very hopeful of qualifying,” Uzbekistan coach Aleksey Evstafeev.